I am very lucky to know so many creative, talented people who were or are currently living and thriving around the Midwest. And (if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile) you know I’m obsessed with interview-based blog posts, especially with creatives and artists. So it was only natural I make a little space here on Midwest Love Fest to feature these incredible people, starting with my best friend for the past 20-ish years (no, literally): Maria Guzman.
I have always been jealous of this lady’s INSANE artistic talent. Obviously I’ve known her for quite awhile–we even grew up essentially a few miles apart and our parents share an anniversary day–and from the time we were in kindergarten all the way through now, she has always blown people away with her ability. So, I felt it was only right that my first interview of this new series starts with her. With that, everyone who doesn’t know this lady already, meet the beautiful painter, Maria Claire…
Hey! Okay, so can you tell us a little about your journey thus far?
Well, I’m the youngest of three. I have two older brothers who got my butt in shape at a young age, which made me feel like I could always hang with the guys. I was a very anxious child, a trait that I think inhibited some of my creative tendencies for a long time because, well, I was a follower. And I always had to report back to my mother for everything. I remember in 6th grade, I quit piano because I had too much homework. Those anxious tendencies were bad growing up, which I regret because I wish I could play piano now.
High school was a game changer for me, in a few ways. I went on a service trip to Mexico, where we were building homes for families living literally in a dump yard, and had the realization that there seemed to be no reason why it wasn’t me living in that situation. Why did I luck out and get to be raised on a farm in the Midwest? Sure, my parents were working 365 days a year, but I had my needs met. So that was always in the back of my mind—that feeling that I need to do something because there’s really no reason I lucked out and had a better situation. The second game changer was caddying throughout high school because it got me a full scholarship to college. That impacted me in a lot of ways, especially work-wise–realizing that I could set a goal and actually achieve it.
I was then accepted into UMN Twin Cities and started taking sociology classes, which made me realize there are still a lot of prejudices that exist in the United States. Similar to that town we lived and volunteered at in Mexico. Our nation tries to keep all the bad things out of sight and out of mind, like they did with the garbage dump. Like, if we don’t see it, it’s not there. It’s just easier to ignore the problem. So I kind of refocused–going from global work to refocusing on more local issues in college.
How, or when, did art become part of that?
Well, caddying was a large part of my time in high school, with the intention of getting a scholarship for caddying, which I did. So, in doing that, I didn’t necessarily have to think practically about what I was going to major in and what would make me money to pay off student loans after college. So I waffled back and forth between “Oh I want to do science! I want to do Spanish! Maybe I’ll do graphic arts!” Then I landed on Sociology and thought I might just minor in art since I always liked it, and needed to feed that side, and it ended up being easy enough to squish in a whole major in that time. So I did that.
Luckily, I had one amazing professor my freshman year that really sparked my creative imagination again. Had I not had him I probably wouldn’t have pursed an art degree. He was very impactful. Honestly though, my art classes were some of my most stressful classes. They were the only ones I would pull all nighters for. They were the only classes that made me cry. They were the only ones were the professor would just tell me to stop “dicking around,” which is something my sculpture professor once told me in a critique. I mean, ultimately, those classes served to help me. They taught me that even if I hated something, if there’s one positive thing I can take away from the class or situation, or if there’s one thing I can learn, I will be happy.
What was your time in art school like? Would you recommend it to someone looking to pursue a degree in the fine or graphic arts?
A lot of my art classes were repetitive and stressful, so I used them that way to toughen myself up. I wouldn’t have majored in studio art, and may have considered graphic art, if it weren’t for my scholarship. But, I followed my interests; I didn’t have to be practical.
I can’t speak to graphic art, but I was thoroughly disappointed with my education as a fine art major. There were very few history requirements, which is sad because there’s a lack of appreciation for art history and everything that came before us. Plus, that’s how all the past creatives learned to paint—by copying the masters that came before them. And I don’t know if there’s as much emphasis or importance placed on doing that now. There’s so much emphasis on pushing boundaries, but it’s not well-rounded enough. At least not in the program I attended. There also needs to be a stronger technical part to the education too, because there is a science to art; understanding paint and the chemical makeup of it, how it dries or how different mediums mix.
Ultimately, whether you go to school or not depends on what kind of artist you want to be. I learned some things from it—some things that have helped me progress–but I don’t think I needed to go to college to learn those things. If you want to be a true traditional artist and want to sell your work, I don’t think you need to go to school for that. Just learn how to market yourself.
When do you first remember being drawn to (ha! puns) painting and art?
I always remember being surrounded by my cousins who are about 8 years older than me. They would come over from Belgium for the summer–I would go there every few years too–and we would do little art and crafts projects in watercolor. I remember in kindergarten being really frustrated by the assigned art projects, that there was a set thing you had to do, and I hated that everyone did the same thing. Now everyone dip your hand in the paint and put it on the felt [laughing] it was just the inability to be as creative as I wanted to be. Then again, I was too afraid to break the rules as a child.
From grade school on, I always incorporated art into my schoolwork. I would create the most elaborate projects, placing this enormous pressure on myself to do these creative things. But I always made it a part of my school life, somehow. Not sure exactly how it happened…I think my dad always had a creative edge to him. I remember my dad once teaching me how to draw a swing set on a piece of paper. So between him and having very creative cousins, it was always a fun hobby for me.
Definitely my parent’s home and their farm. I’m very influenced by that place in general. I always end up being drawn to places and buildings. Essentially, outdoor places. One of the most fun paintings I did in college was of a photo I had taken of an abandoned railroad track in Minneapolis. A few homeless people were living down there and you get a feel for the environment without having to add the people in the paintings…you get a feel for the type of people who live there.
Do you think you could ever be a full-time painter or artist?
I don’t think I could ever do it full time because it would take the joy out of it for me. Yes, I would like to find a way to incorporate art into my life more, since I don’t paint as much as I would like to, but it’s the one thing that’s difficult for me to take constructive criticism on. And, honestly, I don’t really want to have to. When I paint it’s for me.
Have you ever sold anything, or would you?
I only ever sold one painting and it was really awesome. It was kind of a rush to make money from it, but it was one of the saddest things too because I put so much time into the project. So when I do paint, I want to keep it for my friends or family so I know where it’s going. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to produce more so I don’t have an emotional attachment to the pieces.
How do you think creativity impacts or is incorporated into your day job as a Lead Housing Crisis and Housing Advocate?
I have to be creative in how I interact with people since I typically don’t work with people in my demographic. I’m currently working in Bridgeport (CT) where I’m the minority staff, so I have to be creative in how I connect with people, in order to gain their trust and understand how to best meet their needs.
Generally, having a creative mind helps with being able to problem-solve efficiently and affectively because I can see the smaller picture, or immediate issue, while also seeing how it fits into the bigger picture. It makes it easier to find the best solution based on those different moving parts, possibly better than people who don’t have that creative side and therefore have more of a one track mind.
One piece of advice for fellow or aspiring creatives?
Don’t put so much stress and pressure on yourself as a 12 years old. I wish I would’ve continued playing basketball and piano in 6th grade and not been so hung up on getting straight A’s. It’s not a big deal overall, but had I learned to let go of that stress earlier on in life—it took me till college to kind of get rid of all my anxiety—it would’ve made things a lot easier for me.
Least favorite part of the creative process?
Figuring out what I’m going to do. I obsess over it. Once I get into it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a weird addiction almost and once I get past the stressful point of figuring it all out, I can paint and be free and then it becomes stress relieving; a release.
Favorite part of the creative process?
The actual painting portion is my favorite part of the creative process. If I’m not getting into a painting within a day or two of starting it, I just need to come up with a new subject because that’s where it becomes stressful—if I have to rework it. It’s actually helped me learn how to think about the stressors of my life in general though–not getting hung up on the little things—and learning when to let go, step back and be done.
How did the Midwest, or where you grew up in particular, hinder or help your creative growth?
Growing up on a farm, the pastoral landscapes are near and dear to my heart. In fact, that was one of my first projects in intermediate painting class. We had to do a realistic painting and an abstract painting and I chose a farm.
The community that I grew up in, in general, I think was a supportive environment for pursuing whatever you wanted, but I think it did that in a way that wasn’t really focused on making money or that competitive aspect, it was just about being the best of the best. In my college art classes, things were competitive and you felt everyone was striving to be the next best thing. In my early high school years, there wasn’t that competitive environment, which helped foster a strong appreciation for the arts. And if I would’ve grown up in a city, there may have been more pressure and inability to develop on my own terms.
In what way do you wish the creative community in the Midwest was different?
I wish it was more accessible and open. I don’t know in Appleton [our hometown in WI] where I could go and find an open studio. Why can’t there be a gym for artists? I wish there was more of a collaborative community, where people could share resources and show support. Have it be as important as after-school sports. That was always my dream–to run my own creative-based non-profit for at-risk youth, because the creative stuff is always the first thing to be cut from schools.
Also, the art community can be so exclusive and pretentious. It needs to be more open and welcoming to everyone, otherwise it defeats the purpose of what it’s supposed to be about. Who’s to say what’s good or bad?
Okay now for the REALLY important questions. Bubbler or water fountain?
T-ah-g or T-ay-g?
Very self conscious of my “A’s” because living on the East Coast it’s a challenge. Everyone makes fun of me! My boss seriously makes fun of me every time I let my Wisconsin accent slip.
Thin crust or deep dish?
Deep dish. All the carbs!
Stop light or traffic light?
Thank you so much for doing this! Now, if people want to internet stalk you, where can they find you?
Don’t dabble too much on social media, but you can follow me on Instagram.